December is a busy time as visitors stream into the Gift Shop of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna. Reopened adjacent to the Father Baker Museum in October 2009 after major remodeling, it features a well-lit sales floor and a wide variety of religious items.
Denise Wood, director of programs, handles tours and events. Joseph Zomeri, director of the gift shop, manages day-to-day operations.
"It looks fantastic," Wood said.
The sales floor is wheelchair-friendly, designed for relaxed browsing. Tables display angels, crèches, and ornaments. Cases of rosaries and medals line the walls. Racks of prayer cards and jewelry are easy to explore. Gifts at every purchase level are available, and staff, mostly volunteers, are ready to help.
"They are marvelous," Zomeri says. "Without them, we wouldn't exist."
"What we have, it's not just standard items," Wood adds. "He's really fine tuned the merchandise here."
Specialty items Zomeri most enjoys selling include Jerusalem olive wood and relics of saints.
Families and communities connect here. Father William Quinlivan's CDs and a new "Sport Rosary" are local originals.
"We sell quite a bit of Irish items here, obviously, where we're located," Zomeri said.
Picture books and Nativity puppets are featured in the children's area, where a video presentation about Father Baker runs quietly. Customers often purchase rosaries or medals here and bring them to their home parishes for blessing.
Pope Francis items have sold particularly well at the gift shop. Zomeri mentions the prayer card for Our Lady, Untier of Knots.
"It's all about Pope Francis," Zomeri said. "No ifs, ands or buts about it. We never carried it until he became the pope. It's interesting, very interesting. He made them popular - he mentioned it in one of his first releases."
Customers will often come in or call with special requests.
"There are so many saints," Zomeri said. "Some items, unique saints, they just don't have them. Prayer cards, I can usually get my hands on, one way or another."
Wood added that the gift shop will take orders over the phone and ship items.
"I've shipped everywhere here in the U.S. and Canada," Zomeri said. "I think the farthest I ever shipped was Switzerland, once."
The gift shop has repeat phone customers.
"I have a lady who lives down South now. She orders 50-100 prayer cards every month," Zomeri said. "There's just not that many religious stores down there."
Barbara Jann, a volunteer for over two years, can't put a price on her experience at Our Lady of Victory.
"You meet so many wonderful people, and hear so many stories," Jann said. "Some happy, some sad. But because of their faith, they can deal with whatever happens in their lives."
Wood, who previously worked across the street and looked out at the basilica, agrees it is a special place.
"I'll never go back, because of the heart, the peacefulness, the blessings," she said. "I'm not looking at the Church; I'm in the Church."